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I was called up in 1940, May 5th to Catterick in the Depot Battalion of the Royal Signals. From there I passed out as an Operator, Wireless and Line (OWL) in November and was posted to Bakewell to join the 11th Indian Divisional Signals.

In January 1941 we sailed from Greenock in a large convoy finishing up in Singapore. After a month waiting for trucks and signals equipment to catch up with us we set off up country to a place called Sungei Patani (Malaya). At this time Japan had not entered into hostilities and our time was spent in exercises and schemes. Then on December 1941 all hell let loose as the Japs invaded. Ultimately we were all ordered on to Singapore Island where our GOC General Percival signed a surrender. We all thought that we would be treated under the terms of the Geneva Convention but we soon learned differently! The Japs did not recognise it and that was when our troubles began.                  

Going back a bit my first spot of bother was during one of the schemes I mentioned when our wireless detachment was on its way to a given map reference. It was drizzling and the road was quite slippery. We were negotiating a bend when the truck came off the road and rolled over several times down a steep hillside. I was in the back, operating the wireless on the move whilst the rest of the crew were in the cab. I was bounced about, caught my forehead on the front sights of the rifles clipped in a rack, finishing up with the rifles under my webbing straps and a very heavy battery thrown out of its housing and resting on my right knee. I passed out for a short spell until the crew {all unharmed}, dragged me free. An officer following in a jeep had witnessed our accident and helped to carry me back up the hillside to the road. He took me in his jeep to a nearby civilian hospital where I was patched up. I thumbed a lift in an empty 15-cwt back to camp and was seen by the MO who kindly gave me a week excused all duties. That episode resulted in lifelong arthritis of the right knee!

First I must explain the functions of Divisional Signals. A detachment was a group of four, three operators one of whom was an NCO and an electrician-signalman who maintained the wireless set and batteries and was also the driver. Each detachment had a particular job to do at a predetermined location such as Divisional HQ, Brigade HQs or Battalion HQs. Battalions had their own signallers to their Company HQs.  As our unit had been formed in the UK it was mainly made up of conscripts and called-up Territorial Army so when we arrived in Malaya a sprinkling of regulars was posted to us.

I was fortunate to be one of the rookies in Cpl "Kelly" Carr's team together with Sgmn. Huskisson , a bank clerk from London, and  E/S Jock Bowie a mechanic from Glasgow. We all got on with each other very well and made a very good team. To our surprise we found ourselves assigned to Divisional HQ where we were told that we were to be part of Major-General Murray-Lyons' recce group which meant that wherever he went we went. He liked to see for himself what was going on so he, his ADC,  a Bren gun carrier, a platoon of troops, a signals officer and us, quite often found ourselves in less than comfortable situations.

The most memorable of these was when we were across a river, behind us was a bridge already prepared by the Engineers for demolition and somewhere in front of us - the Japs! We were bowling along quite smoothly when we suddenly found where in front of us they were - about 300 yards! They were riding towards us on bicycles chattering away like a troop of monkeys. Fortunately we recovered the quickest, did a U-turn and high-tailed it back to the bridge. We were the last vehicle and our rear wheels were scarcely off the bridge when BOOM - NO BRIDGE. The General sent his ADC to our truck early the next morning with tins of sausages and tins of bacon and said that all members of the recce group would be mentioned in dispatches. Sadly, the whole campaign was such a shambles that his dispatches never got through.

My next hair-raising experience was later by several weeks. The 11th Indian Division had suffered such heavy casualties that General Murray-Lyons had been “bowler-hatted”, and the remnants of the Division had been merged with the 9th Indian Division to form the 9th/11th Indian Division. As this already had a wireless detachment at its HQ we were returned to the pool and soon found ourselves assigned to a Brigade HQ. This meant that we were much closer to the sharp end and one day we had our truck under cover on a rubber plantation and had to walk about 200 yards to the cook-house to collect our meals. I was in a short queue when something buzzed past my ear and hit a metal kitchen appliance. "Down" screamed the sergeant cook who then explained it was a bullet from a Japanese sniper and someone had already been hit earlier that morning. An infantry patrol made an assessment of the line of fire and a short time later we heard a burst of tommy-gun fire. The patrol returned with various Japanese souvenirs and the cook-house queue became safe once more. 

A few days later we had another rush of adrenalin. Orders had been received for the Brigade to withdraw to new positions many miles south. A whole fleet of  Australian Army Service Corps trucks arrived so that the battalion engaging the enemy just a few hundred yards ahead of Brigade HQ could break off action, withdraw to the trucks and depart somewhat hastily, leaving us to act as "tail-end Charlie". As usual we had to keep the wireless open until we had notified Division of a successful mission. We were parked under trees to the end of a T junction and as each truck revved up a Jap machine gun down the road got ready to fire a burst as soon as a vehicle appeared in sight.  They always missed because the last troops to come back to the trucks were Ghurkha’s who the Japs feared most and were firing at the machine gun position every time it opened up. This meant that as soon as the last Ghurkha’s were on board there was no covering fire and we were last to go with an Indian dispatch rider. He and Jock Bowie revved up together and the DR shot across the junction before the MG opened up, but they could still hear us revving up so they laid a continuous fire pattern which coincided with our dash. We made it, with numerous holes in the truck canopy but no shots in the floor area where we were all lying, even the driver!   

Forward now to the final days before the surrender. General Percival had ordered all troops to  leave the mainland  and concentrate on the defence of Singapore, so there were tens of thousands of our  men and a few days later, tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers. It was no longer felt necessary to send encrypted messages by Morse code so we were working by radio telephony. Our truck was parked in a deserted army camp between two rows of barrack rooms and we had dug a slit trench 10 yards behind the truck. I was on watch and was standing at the back of the vehicle with the tail-board down and the wireless set on the floor of the truck. I was wearing headphones, plugged into the set with the left earphone over my ear and the right one pushed forward so that I could talk to the other chaps who were in the trench. I was holding a microphone which was also plugged into the set. Suddenly there was an almighty bang, it felt as if all the breath had been sucked out of my body and I found myself in the slit trench on top of the other chaps, still wearing my headphones and holding the microphone. There had been a mortar bomb explode right in front of the truck, the radiator taking all the shrapnel but the blast coming under the truck ha blown me off my feet with such force that it had pulled the jacks out of their sockets as it threw me back 18 yards in to the trench! I was completely deaf for four days when partial hearing returned in my left ear. I have been completely deaf in my right ear ever since. Years later I was told that if my left earphone had not been over my ear I would have been permanently deaf in both ears! The truck was a complete write off so we ordered to wreck the wireless set, grab our packs and walk a mile or so to the remaining members of the wireless section and that was the end of my active service.

Back to February 15th 1942. On the NE area of Singapore Island was a peninsular known as Changi in which was a large civilian prison. We were marched, in unit formations, into this area and, en route had our first examples of the savagery of our captors. The Japanese have a centuries-old hatred of the Chinese of whom there were many thousands in Malaya. We passed several incidents of Chinese being rounded up and lined up in front of a wall where they were massacred by rifle or machine gun fire. When we passed the prison the huge gates were topped by iron spikes and impaled on these were the heads of Ghurkhas who had inflicted severe losses on the Japs during action. Not a happy omen! The neck of the peninsular was closed off by a thick barbed wire barrier, heavily guarded by Japanese and Sikh troops, the latter having the newly founded alliance of Asian countries allied to Japan. Each British and Australian unit was allocated an area, separated by yet more barbed wire, from which no-one could move without a white flag covered in Japanese authorising the movement. Before the surrender we had been ordered to immobilise all transport but the Japs had allowed us to load our remaining rations on to vehicles, without power but capable of being pulled by ropes, and take them with us into Changi.

Our unit area was bordered by a stretch of beach and a native kampong (village) and we used to load the truck with as many men as it would hold and took turns in pulling it to the beach. Here we would collect as many coconuts from the palm trees as we could and whatever we could obtain by barter from the natives. We also had a 15 minute bathe in the sea in order to allow salt to be absorbed through the skin to compensate for the loss of salt from the body by excessive sweating! Initially we were left to our own devices and continued to have parades and observed strict British military discipline but this was later relaxed to the point that we only differentiated between officers and men, so that we could address NCOs by Christian names, which was a big improvement. Later the Japs began to call for working parties to be transported in to Singapore City for various duties such as clearing up bomb damage, unloading cargos from supply ships etc. With the usual squaddies' ingenuity this resulted in our rations improving slightly until the Nips finally caught on and introduced body searches before we were embussed for return to Changi. Woe betide the unfortunate POW (Prisoner of War) caught with contraband!

After several months in Changi, on a variety of local working parties we all had a very unwelcome shock. A peacetime British barracks at a place called Selerang, badly damaged by artillery fire and aerial bombing became the new home for all of the prisoners in Changi which meant that thousands of men were crammed into badly damaged barrack blocks with no latrines, no running water and no cooking facilities. This was because we had refused to sign no-escape promises which were contrary to King's Regulations. The next threat was that all military casualties in hospitals in Singapore City would also be brought to Selerang. At this point our senior officers were taken away and when they returned some hours later we were told that they had been taken to a beach where three POW's had been recaptured after trying to escape by sea. Our officers had to watch while they dug their own graves and were then shot into them. We were then ordered by our senior officers to sign the no-escape promises and were told we would each be given a clearance against any possible court martial after liberation. We were then allowed back to our own areas and given one day’s extra rations. So ended another demonstration of the Japs' ruthlessness.

Now I come to a very significant happening, as things turned out. The Japs ordered our CO to detail a working party of half our unit strength to be posted overseas. He decided to select the working party by putting everyone’s name on separate pieces of paper then putting them all in a box from which the padre drew out the required number. It was allowed for individually arranged exchange to take place so that friends could stay together. I was on the list to go but my close friend was not. As he worked in the cook-house and was able to receive extra rice from cleaning out the boilers we decided I should try to get an exchange to stay behind but there were no takers so my friend Norrie had more luck swapping with some one who wanted to stay behind. Years later we discovered that those who stayed behind moved from Changi to work on the Railway of Death (Thailand-Burma railway).

We were to go to Taiwan where although conditions were bad enough the survival rate proved to be much better. So our journey commenced by marching back from Changi to Singapore docks. Here we boarded a Japanese tramp steamer which had been converted to a troop transport (mainly for POW’s} the like of which we had never seen before. The cargo holds, which were very deep, had been fitted with three layers of wooden flooring covered with rush matting and each man had a floor space of one metre by two and a half metres for himself an whatever kit he still had. Low wattage bulbs were sparsely fitted on the undersides of the floor above which was about four feet higher. It was possible only to crawl about to reach the edge of the platform which was fitted with vertical steel ladders. These enabled us to reach the bottom of the hold where several wooden buckets were lined up for toilet purposes together with buckets of seawater to sluice down the area. You may imagine the problems of carrying up full buckets to empty the contents over the ship's side! On deck there were a few toilet seats lashed to the side rails protruding over the sea below. These were for the use of dysentery cases who had been allocated to the top floor. We were divided into messes of twenty men and at meal times which occurred whenever the Japs remembered to feed us, usually twice - occasionally three times a day, two men had to climb up the ladders to the deck to collect a bucket of rice and a bucket of vegetable water. These they had to negotiate very carefully down the ladders and share out between the men in their mess. All this in dim lighting and in a ship rolling and tossing in rough seas.

After several days at sea under appalling conditions, dysentery was spreading to many more of us to the extent that quite a few had died as a result of the severity of their condition and there had been a growing number of burials at sea. We were beginning to wonder how many of us would reach our destination, wherever it may be, when there was a terrific crash and a grinding noise. The Japanese crew were running about in a panic, beating any one of us who happened to be in their way. It was finally decided that we had struck a sunken wreck, of which there many in those waters, and that we must return to Singapore. This we did where the worst cases of dysentery were returned to Changi and the rest of us were loaded on to a similar ship. We set off again in even worse conditions because we were crowded together more to accommodate Japanese troops on the upper "floor", so that they had easy access to the deck and fresh air, which was denied us. In our living conditions we had no distinction between day and night and no idea of the time since any one of us who had possessed a watch had it stolen by the Japs. After what seemed weeks we reached our destination which we were then told was Taiwan (formerly Formosa}, an island in the China seas.

We landed at a port called Taipei and it was there that we discovered to what lengths the Japs would go to humiliate us. They had ordered the local population (formerly Chinese who had supported the Allies) to be present on the dockside so that the Japs could show off their prisoners and we were brought on deck at bayonet point, stark naked, where a party of Japanese nurses had us bend over whilst they inserted glass rods up our backsides to take samples to identify if any of us had contracted dysentery. They were terrified of disease and wore masks at the slightest suspicion of any infection. We then had to dress, on deck, before we disembarked. From there after countless "tenkos" (tenko meaning ‘number’, this was the early morning assembly call where every man was required to stand and have a roll-call) we were marched off several miles to a newly built POW camp at a place called Taihoku which turned out to be our "home" for nearly three years.

This camp was completely enclosed by a high bamboo fence immediately inside which was a path going around all four sides of the camp with machine-gun and searchlight towers in each corner.  Beyond this sentry patrol path was a moat about eight feet wide and eight feet deep with inward steeply sloping sides these, filled with water were impossible to cross except at gates where drawbridges were located. It was guarded at all times by an armed sentry. In all the time that we were there no one attempted to escape, it would have been suicide. Now that you have some idea of the camp I will try to give you a picture of our life inside it in my next instalment.


The approach to the camp was by a dirt road at the foot of a very steep hill on top of which was a Buddhist monastery. The road did not continue past the camp fence but led into a dense growth of almost impenetrable bamboo. From the main double gates a road ran the length of the camp down to the moat. The first section of the camp was the Jap compound, separated from the POW area by yet another bamboo fence with double gates across the road. In the Jap area was a guardroom. The Japs' quarters and cook-house, toilets and ablutions on the left as one came through the main gates. On the right of the road was a drill square and various workshops - tailor, cobbler, Jap hairdresser and other miscellaneous buildings. In the POW compound there were three long barrack type buildings on either side of the road which were very basic, each housing 64 men, known as a "shotai" or company. I was in "dai san shotai" or number 3 company. Also in our compound was a cook-house, a trough with about ten cold water taps - our ablutions, a very primitive toilet block, a building called the hospital, although no medical treatment was ever given - you were just put in there and if you were lucky you got better otherwise you died. There was also a building which housed a rope factory where POWs who were too weak to march to the outdoor work-sites were employed on "light" work.

Our days for nine days started at 6.00 am with tenko which usually took about half an hour for the whole camp, followed by washing and dressing, "benjo" (toilets). Then two men from each mess went to the cook-house for breakfast. This was brought back and shared out and usually we barely had time to eat it before the "shigoto tenko" was called. At this we fell in by companies on the road and when, eventually, the Japs had arrived at the correct count we were marched off, heavily guarded, to our various work sites. Here we worked like slaves, under the constant risk of beatings if the guards were not satisfied with our work rate. At about midday a whistle blew, we fell in for another long drawn out tenko before returning to camp. The same routine as at breakfast time followed until tenko again and back to work. At about six pm. another tenko, back to camp and supper. From then until the morning tenko we usually suffered about six more tenkos.

Initially we were supposed to be responsible for growing vegetables and producing livestock such as pigs, hens, ducks, rabbits etc. with which we were given starters. A battery sergeant-major who was a farmer called up from the reserves was put in charge of the "farm" and a team of farm-workers was appointed. This team was changed regularly so that no-one had time to set up any rackets but the Japs didn't seem to realise that the old BSM was already working his own. Some of us were employed in clearing the bamboo thickets to clear more ground for growing vegetables and there were countless snails down by the roots. These we pushed down inside our work shirts where they crawled about until we got back to camp. We had bags made out of worn out shirts in which we placed the snails, tied up the bag with old bootlaces  and when the coast was clear we threw the bags over the fence into the farmyard, each bag having a wooden tag tied to it bearing our prison number. For two cigarettes a bag Wiggy the farmer would put the bags in a huge boiler in which he always had a load of pigswill cooking. The bags were thrown back into the compound under the same carefully worked out system of waiting until patrolling guards had gone on to a stretch of their patrol out of sight of our activities. The snails were then treated so that we received the edible part and the rest was surreptitiously disposed of down the benjo.

As time passed we were growing tomatoes, daikon - an oriental type of root vegetable rather like a turnip sized horseradish and various other veg. unknown to us. The self supporting story had long gone by the board and all our produce went into the Jap cook-house or was sold in the local market. Whose pockets that lined we never knew but the Jap officers always looked extremely well fed. One incident gave clue, though, when the hens in the farmyard began to go off the lay until only one hen was laying. Finally the last hen went off the lay and the Jap guard commander and a squad of goons entered the farm and asked Wiggy which hen had not laid. Wiggy pointed out the last one to lay and the goons chased it and caught it. They then spread eagled its wings, on which they placed large heavy rocks and left it out in a blazing sun all day as a "punishment" for insulting Dai Nippon by not laying an egg for the Commandant's breakfast!

The first few months at Taihoku were spent in expanding the acreage of food producing ground until we had a large area of tomato plants, large cabbage beds and large quantities of daikon being produced - some plants gave three crops a year - so we were kept pretty busy until this work reached a stage where a smaller workforce could keep it at full output level. The majority of us were then diverted on to a different project controlled by a civil engineering business. The "hanchos" or foremen of this company were even more brutal than the military guards and would think nothing of attacking anyone not considered working hard enough with the tool he was using - a spade, a pick or a mattock - and inflicting some significant injuries for which the Japs provided no treatment. Our medical officer did the best he could with makeshift bandages we had pooled from individual first aid kits but most of the victims bore scars for life.  We were engaged on the building of a national monument to Japanese war dead in the form of a stadium in the form of a huge bowl with facilities on the level base for all forms of athletic and sporting events. The process was as follows. Half a mile or so from the camp was a lake of a very large area with bottom and banks of a stiff grey clay. Some of our chaps stood barefoot in the water near the banks, with "changles" or mattocks, chopping out large thick blocks of clay not unlike breeze blocks to look at but much heavier. Theses were stacked several yards back by another working party to be collected by yet another working party, working in pairs with "tongas" which were like stretchers made up of two long thick bamboo poles on which had been woven split bamboo to form a carrying surface. These were loaded up under the supervision of a hancho until they could take no more without it falling off.

With the usual cruel sense of humour we had come to expect of the Japs they had chosen the smallest blokes to carry these heavily laden tongas over half a mile to a narrow gauge railway line to be loaded on to bogies which then had to be manually pushed nearly a mile to the stadium. Guess who was a tonga man and pusher?  You've got it - yours truly!  That's made me tired now thinking about it!  I'm taking a rest.


It was surprising considering the conditions under which we were living how we managed to keep such a sense of humour. There were three Japanese lieutenants who rotated as sub-commandants under a lieutenant.colonel, commanding six POW camps in Taiwan. We had nicknames for all of them. The subs were ‘Groucho’, ‘Moonface’ and ‘Schizo’ whilst the Colonel was ‘Handlebars’. Groucho because he looked like a poor imitation of Groucho Marx, Moonface because he had the roundest, yellowest face we had ever seen, Schizo because he could change from a pussycat to a tiger in a few seconds for no reason. And the colonel Handlebars because he always appeared in the sidecar of a motorbike with the widest handlebars we had ever seen and also because he was the only Jap we saw with a huge handlebar moustache which made him look as fierce as he actually was. Groucho was our favourite. He was small, walked with bendy knees and had a straggly moustache which he tried to make look military. It never looked like anything other than damp strands of seaweed! He enjoyed playing a game with me because I had a military type moustache and when he saw me one tenko in the barrack room he turned to the interpreter and yelled at him to ask for a pair of scissors with which he cut off half of my moustache, smacked me on both sides of the face and carried on with tenko in very good humour. For the rest of the week he was on duty he would stop at me during tenko, giggle like a child, smack my face and carry on in good humour. The blokes in dai san shotai were very grateful for his good humour because tenkos were nearly always accompanied by someone getting a bashing and this little game of his took his mind off anything else. Every time he came back on duty I had trimmed back the half he had left to match the newly grown half to leave me with a moustache identical with the one he had first started on. Scissors were obtained and again half of my 'tache would disappear accompanied by the usual face smacking and a bout of giggling. This went on for months until one day he stopped in front of me, stroked my moustache, smiled at me, patted my face, said "joto, joto" and passed on, that meant "Good, Very good". I can only assume that he realised that I was determined to keep my moustache and respected it.

Another example of the unexpected humorous response to a situation was the rat episode. The camp was infested with rats to the extent that we would often wake up to find rats clambering over our face to try to get into the haversack we used as a pillow in order to steal our soap. The Japs initiated a campaign to reduce the number of rats by encouraging us to kill as many as we could and for each dead rat we took to the office we would receive ten cigarettes. It didn't take long for us to cotton to how they disposed of the bodies - they were dumped in the swill bins which periodically were taken to the farm for Wiggy to put in his boiler. An arrangement was reached with Wiggy for the dead rats to be salvaged for two cigarettes a rat. A strict record was kept of who had handed in dead rats. It didn't take long for the Japs to realise that a great number of dead rats were being handed in and though they never worked out what had been going on they introduced a system of chopping off each rat's tail before handing over a packet of cigarettes. Needless to say, they had the last laugh.

You may remember in an earlier instalment that I said we worked nine days. The tenth day was known as a "yasume" (rest) day.  On this day we were allowed to hold a church service, wash our clothes, mend any garments which had become torn and, very importantly, collect our pay for the previous nine days' work. This represented the equivalent of one penny farthing per day! The "canteen" was opened and we could buy cigarettes based on the number of days we had worked, from forty if we had individually worked all nine days down to none if we had been "bioke" and had worked no days which meant we could buy none. The only other thing the canteen sold was re-sharpened razor blades, which pulled like mad and left the face like raw meat. For that reason most of us preferred a close trim with scissors carried out by our best mate or "oppo". The only other bright spot on yasume days was the very rare handing out of international Red Cross parcels at the rate of one parcel for every six men. This despite the fact that lorry loads of parcels were received regularly but immediately went into a locked store. Even the medical supplies which came in were never issued to the so-called hospital. The food supplied by the Japs consisted of rice which had lain for years in warehouses in very large sacks. When the cooks opened them they found there was almost as much maggots and weevils as there was rice. Our senior officer went to complain about this and was told that something would be done about it. It was - the Japs mixed sulphur in the sacks so that at least we no longer got livestock in the rice. The quantity per man per day was three small bowls of rice, three small bowls of vegetable water (laughingly called soup} and three small bowls of tea. The latter was made from leaves and twigs torn straight from the bush and was as bitter as gall. I have never been able to drink tea ever since.

The days, weeks, months, and years passed by with the same unceasing pattern of starvation, brutality, weakness and slave labour.  There were many fatalities and we began to notice that, in the main, It was the bigger chaps who were more likely not to make it. This was because they were on the same meagre rations as we smaller blokes and lost a greater proportion of their body weight. Also we noticed that they were more prone to saying "If I get out of here...." whereas we smaller chaps who had always had to strive harder to achieve anything would say "When I get out of here…", a more positive reaction to our terrible conditions.  I am not a psychologist but I firmly believe  that I owe my survival to  my ever present support of my two good friends Will and Percy, otherwise known as Will Power and Percy Vere. They have been ever supportive through out my life when things have been difficult  and do so to this day.

At last it seemed as if the sun had broken through the clouds when we were told that we were to be transferred to a camp in Japan.  Surely we would fare better there than in the atrocious conditions we had endured for the past two and a half years in Taiwan. We had tended to push our worst experiences to the back of our minds and it came as a shock to find ourselves boarding another hell-ship which was even worse than the ones in which we left Singapore. We had never been given any war news and did not know that the Americans had control of the Pacific and that Japan had lost the greater part of their shipping. Because of this the ship's crew were very hostile to us and made our lives even more difficult. The food was disgusting and we were lucky if they bothered to give us more than one meal a day. Also things must have got much worse for the Japs regarding supplies as we had only half the light fittings with bulbs so that we were in such a dim environment that whenever we left our own space it was quite a problem finding the way back. However we finally landed in Japan.

We landed at Osaka in the southern island of Japan and were immediately marched to the railway station. We were crammed into a special train which carried only us and our guards. Blinds were pulled down on all the windows and the lights kept on day and night. If anyone tried to get a peek by the sides of the blinds he received a severe beating. Why such secrecy was necessary we never discovered, but our journey had obviously been well planned as from time to time the train would stop and Japanese would board the train with what today we call takeaways and issue one meal to each man, including the guards and a small bowl of tea each. The journey seemed interminable and we had no idea of night or day or the time. Eventually we arrived at a ferry port and boarded a ferry which took us to the northern island of Hokkaidō where we landed at Hakodate. We were marched through the streets to a large two-storey building through snow banked up in walls about five feet high either side of the roads.

When we were settled upstairs in a room which occupied the whole of the upper storey and had two glowing pot-bellied stoves we received a talk from a Japanese colonel who spoke perfect English. He told us that the work we would be doing would be hard but that because of the severe weather and the fact that we were in such poor physical condition we would not be starting work for several weeks. In the meantime we were to receive double rations and have a delivery of Red Cross parcels directly into our cookhouse! Imagine our surprise when all this actually happened. We revelled in the long yasume period and drank countless cups of coffee which the cookhouse supplied throughout the day. Eventually, however, the day came when the weather improved, the colonel was satisfied that we had regained our strength and we had our first tenko for weeks before setting off to work. We were marched back to the docks and, the snow having cleared, we saw that there was a network of railway tracks and on each one stood a coal train. We were divided into squads, one to each train and when we were in position the drivers operated a control which raised the sides of all the wagons and the coal came cascading out. Our job was to shovel the coal into stacks clear of the rails on either side and when this had been done dozens of high-sided carts pulled by scrawny horses suddenly appeared. We then had to shovel the coal over the high sides of these ‘bashas’ as they were called. The drivers then backed up to the dock side and let the backboard of the basha loose and the coal fell into lighters moored against the dock wall. When a lighter was full the guards detailed several of us to climb down into it and off we went to a ship waiting in the harbour. Their huge canvas slings were swung by the ship's derrick alongside the lighter. More shovelling was needed to fill the sling which was swung over the ship's coal bunker before being unloaded. This went on until the lighter was empty and then it was back to the dock to repeat the whole process over and over again. We realised what the colonel had meant when he had said that the work would be hard!

I should explain at this point that I had the ability to throw over my left shoulder or my right with equal dexterity and foolishly forgot the Japanese delight in making the smaller chaps work harder than the rest with the result that I was moved from one side of the track or a basha after doing my stint with my original team to help out on a team that was lagging behind. Unusual ability always seems to lead to more work. More of this later. At this time, apart from hard work, conditions seemed a little easier - due I think to the Commandant.

Several months passed until one day we were called back to camp for a talk by the Commandant in which he said that Nippon had been betrayed by its allies {Italy and Germany} and was now fighting alone. Because of this it may well be that we could soon be returned to our own countries and he wished us to return as ambassadors of goodwill towards Japan. He went on to explain the differences between our two cultures and said that he understood better than most because he had been, at various times before the war, a professor of English language at universities in England and the USA, so he had lived under both cultures. He gave us several examples of why we may have felt that we had been beaten without reason. First we must understand that by surrendering we had committed the worst disgrace possible in Japanese eyes. This meant that from the very beginning of our captivity we had ceased to be soldiers or even men and were less than the dirt under their feet, leaving us fit only for slavery. Also something we in the Western world, by doing something which is a part of our culture, were actually paying any Jap who spoke to us a very serious insult. This was not understood by either side and had never been explained to us throughout the three years plus that we had been prisoners. The simple explanation was this - if a Jap spoke to us we did what we normally did - we looked him in the eyes, a terrible insult in the Japanese culture for it implied that we considered ourselves superior to him. How did he respond to this insult? He knocked us to the ground and kicked us for good measure. We stood up, not knowing what we had done wrong, and with the British stiff upper lip immediately looked him in the eyes again. Crash! Has this arrogant slave not yet learnt his lesson? And so on. The correct behaviour in Japanese manners when someone speaks to you is to lower one's own eyes to a point mid-chest of the speaker thus indicating your respect for him as a superior person!

Many other instances were explained to us that afternoon but there was a most unexpected development! One of the guards present was a member of the Kempeitai, the dreaded military secret police, comparable with the German SS, and he reported the Colonel for giving us war news and suggesting that the war might soon be over. As a punishment the Colonel was returned to active service and we were transferred to another camp. And that seems a convenient point to end this chapter.


The camp to which we were transferred was just outside a village called Akahari up in the mountains and the work we were to undertake there was coalmining. The camp itself was enclosed in the usual high bamboo fences and the huts in which we were housed had obviously seen better days. Things did not promise well for us when each man was issued with a large tin of flea powder! When we sprinkled this on the rush matting of our sleeping platforms we were amazed to see what appeared to be a shower of white explosions, until we realised it was fleas coated with the powder, hundreds of them, jumping up about a yard from the platforms. I don't know who had occupied the place before us but they certainly were a lousy lot!

The day after we had settled in we were addressed by the mine manager who explained to us that we would be working in a drift shaft mine. This meant that there was no winding gears and cages to take us down to the workings but that we would have to walk down a quite steeply sloped tunnel to wherever in the mine we were detailed to work. The mine consisted of two drift shafts blasted out of a mountain side at an angle of about 45 degrees, at the bottom of a coal seam had been struck. These were producing coal which was brought to the surface in iron bogies on a narrow gauge railway track, pulled by a steel cable running over a series of pulley wheels set in the floors of the tunnels, the power being supplied from a winch house in the colliery yard. From these drift shafts two horizontal levels had been started and it was to be our job to drill and blast tunnels through the rock of the mountain side to hit the coal seam already found at the bottoms of the drift shafts, as the Jap geologists had estimated that the coal seam started much higher than the level at which it had been found. We were then given a very brief description of the various jobs in the mine, such as railway track layers, compressed air pipe extenders, ventilation system extenders and the level cable operators.

The main job, working continuously at the same point throughout the shift, was that of drilling and blasting the tunnel forward by one metre each shift. This was known as a stint. Of course my ability to work left sided and right sided automatically decided my job. It was explained that we, the blasters, would be working under the direction of a hancho who would mark with chalk where we were to drill deep holes for the dynamite charges along the floor of the tunnel, semi circularly round the walls and roof of the tunnels and in the centre of the face. This latter group of holes was known as the ‘senugi’ or centre cut. Next day, after the inevitable tenko, the day shift of which I was one set off for the mine. In the colliery yard we went to the lamp shed where we were each issued with a canvas cap which had a fitting on the front for the lamp and a battery on a belt. We were shown how to wear and operate these and off we went to a large gaping black hole in the mountain side where we were told to switch on our lamps and our introduction to working in a coal mine had begun.

As you will no doubt have realised from my reference to the day shift we also had a night shift and after every nine days' work came a yasume day. This was when we changed shifts but we always kept the same hancho under this system. Quel dommage as the French would say - what a pity! Our hancho was an absolute swine and we soon found out that we were going to have a hard time. The shift began with him measuring, to the millimetre, what our starting point was for our stint. This was done by taking a measurement by means of wooden pegs driven into the tunnel roof at metre intervals, with Japanese symbols on giving the exact distance from the level starting point, back in the main shaft.  Our hancho known to us as Four-eyes Because he wore the largest pair of horned rim glasses any of us had ever seen, was obviously seeking promotion because he took ages when we thought we had achieved our stint and made us take out a few extra centimetres so that we exceeded our stint by just a few millimetres each day. We found out after a few changes of shift that the measurements for each day were totalled for the nine-day spell and the hancho achieving the greater distance was awarded bonus points by the mine manager. Four eyes was single whereas the hancho on the other shift was married with children, so he preferred to finish as soon as his squad had cleared away all the rock fall from the blast and tidied up the face. Four-eyes, on the other hand would keep us as long as two hours after our shift should have finished making sure that his figures were in the lead. Another of his tactics was to use only half sticks of dynamite in every alternate hole so that he could claim greater productivity for less outlay. I think he was hated by his fellow hanchos as he was by us. One thing was for sure - he was very, very careful to keep his blasting key in his possession at all times. I think that if he had left it near the detonating box and another hancho had come to our work site while Four-eyes was up at the face completing his wiring there could have been an "unexplained faulty blastoff".

Our work routine was as follows. After Four-eyes had finally checked his starting point he marked out where we had to drill. This was done by means of a very long very heavy drill which two men had to support on their shoulder whilst a third man operated the handles and controls. The drill bit was about a metre long and had a very small bore venting channel. If the operator drilled for too long at a time the drill would stop rotating and the noise would rise to a high pitched whine, at which point Four-eyes would go berserk and would charge in to take weight of the drill on his shoulder so that the bit would not break and scream "Hukashi" which meant "Blow". What had happened was that the rock dust caused by the rotating drill bit had worked its way up the inside of the drill and caused a blockage. After repeated operation of the blower the drill would clear and resume drilling. The unfortunate operator would receive a beating and we would all change places. The drilling process would  take hours to complete and would be tested hole by hole with a dipstick like rod until the hancho was satisfied they had all been drilled to the correct depth  This  completed to his satisfaction we POWs were ordered back down the tunnel behind a large wooden blasting screen and told to have our ‘mishi’ or food whilst he placed the dynamite charges  and wired them up  He would come back trailing a long wire which he then connected to the fitting box, inserted his key and BOOM, the first part of our job was done.

After the blast we had to wait a few minutes for the choking, blinding rock dust to settle before returning to the face. The sight that greeted us told us immediately whether the blast had been a good one or not. If things had gone in our favour there would be a huge mass of broken rocks and we then had to go to the main shaft and bring back an empty bogie. It was then all hands to the pump loading the lumps of rock into the bogie. Any that were too large to lift had to be broken down by pneumatic picks which meant me so that we could load the bogie to its utmost capacity and then push it back to the main shaft for it to be winched up back we would go with another empty bogie and repeat the process until all the loose rocks had been cleared so that we could start cleaning up the face with picks to a level surface all over the semi - circular tunnel. This was nit - picking Four-eyes' signal to come into action with his measuring tape, pointing to little outcrops here and there which had to be chiselled away with the pneumatic picks until at last he was satisfied. It was when we were pushing a loaded bogie to the main shaft one day that an uneven floor caused us to pick up speed. You must remember that the only light we had was from our headlamps and the chap in front of me pushing the bogie suddenly shouted "Overhang" which meant that the roof had not been sufficiently cleared at some stage before we started working in the mine. The warning came too late for me. The chap The chap who had shouted the warning had managed to duck clear, the chap at the back behind me had let go ot the bogie and stopped. I was piggy in the middle with no chance to avoid the overhang so I was trapped between the iron rim of the bogie and the roof. It took some time to manoeuvre the bogie slowly backwards so that I could be freed. Fortunately it was the last bogie of the day and my mates helped me up the drift shaft and virtually carried me back to camp. The result of that little episode was spinal damage which set up spondylosis, both lumbar and cervical, which ultimately led to my early retirement on medical grounds in 1974. In great pain I had to turn out to work the next day but even the hancho could see I was in no state to do anything so I was just a passenger. One good thing that came out of it was that Four-eyes took a couple of blokes back up the tunnel and had the overhang dealt with to avoid the same thing happening again. Carrying on from my accident, the Jap medical orderly sanctioned my admission to the camp "hospital" which was simply a room where all POWs unable to get to work were accommodated. Whilst in there we received only half rations and could not buy any cigarettes but my very good mate Norrie used to visit me in the evenings after work and bring me contributions from my workmates from their own meagre rations. After a short while I was pronounced fit to resume work by the medical lance corporal and back I went to the daily (or nightly) grind.

This routine went on until the middle of August 1945 when one day we were on the day shift and sensed something strange was happening. After the blast our hancho disappeared and fellows who worked on the maintenance gangs throughout the mine came without any restriction to tell us that their hanchos also had disappeared. Shortly afterwards guards came down the mine - something they had never done before - and said "All men come". We followed them up top and were told to hand in our hats and lamps quickly and were then marched - without a tenko away from the colliery yard. The guards were unusually quiet, no screaming, no beatings and finally the guard walking beside me and Norrie whispered "Sensu awari" which meant the war is over. Norrie was just about to tell some of the other chaps when the guard made a gesture of throat cutting and, pointing to another guard said "Nai, nai, Kempeitai" which meant no, no, Secret Police so we kept quiet until we were back in camp.

You can imagine the buzz which quickly spread through the camp, and this seemed to be given further confirmation the next day when we were not called out for work nor had the previous night shift gone to work.  We received much bigger and more varied meals that day and were told that the reason we were not going to the mine for a few days was because of an outbreak of typhoid in the village.

Later that night all senior barrack rooms NCOs were called to the hospital where Lt. Bygraves our maintenance officer gave them some information. He was nominally in charge of the hospital, which was rarely visited by the Japs because of their fear of disease and so he had been able to construct a radio receiver in the bottom of his water bottle. Because the lights were switched off at night he had begged some batteries from a guard, supposedly for his torch so that he could tend any one needing attention during the hours of blackout. He had called together our room seniors to tell them that he had picked up a news flash from an American station that General Macarthur would accept nothing less than complete surrender or further atomic attacks would continue. When our barrack seniors returned he woke us all up to give us this news and said that Lt. Bygraves had told them that if the war was not yet officially over, it was to all intents and purposes and our mine working days were over.

This was made official the next morning when we were all called on parade - no tenko - having been told to bring a drinking vessel with us. Then, on a raised platform, the Japanese camp commandant told us that the Emperor had ordered all Japanese forces to cease hostilities in order to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians. He said that the Allies had developed a devilish bomb, two of which had been dropped on Japanese cities with immense loss of life. As a result we were no longer prisoners and would soon be going home. Large containers of sake were then produced and he invited us to drink with them and become ambassadors of goodwill to Dai Nippon. There was an immediate growl from most of us until our senior British officer jumped up on the platform and shouted "Listen, chaps, I haven't had a decent drink in over three and a half years so take his drink and toast whatever you like silently" We all cheered, the Commandant beamed and  we were all happy!

After the official announcement by the camp commandant there were many immediate changes. First Capt. Francis, our senior officer, took over command of the camp but did not introduce full military discipline. Wisely he allowed the existing relationships to continue, taking the line that we had all been in the same boat and had got on very well together, so he saw no benefit in changing the existing set up. The next thing was that the Japanese guards remained in the camp but were disarmed and no longer came into our compound. Several of our chaps who had been company clerks were drafted into the camp office to man the telephone, prepare lists of surviving personnel, requisition rations and clothing, medication and welfare items such as books, playing cards, dice, etc. Communication was very soon established with the Allied repatriation team and it wasn't long before things began to happen. We had the freedom to barter with the civilians who came to the camp gates to exchange eggs for practically anything we offered, whether it be Japanese money, a pair of scissors, anything, they were so poor. At the rear of the camp was a gate leading out on to an open space known as a padang on which we  used to parade before going to, and returning from, work for the inevitable tenkos. Orders were received from top level to be prepared for an air drop from planes of a US task force to use the padang as a dropping zone. We were in a basin among steep mountains and, after a reconnaissance flight the US pilots had decided that the approach would be made through one gap in the mountains, flying as low as they dared over the padang to release their loads of oil drums filled with supplies by parachutes before making a steep climb and turn to leave through a different break between the mountains so as to allow a continuous stream of aircraft on a controlled flight plan. Our job on the ground was to form a cordon round the padang to keep out any civilians and to mark any drops which missed the target zone. It was then that tragedy struck. One plane came in too low and realised he had to climb very steeply. Unfortunately, his load was released at the plane's lowest point and the 'chute failed to open causing the oil drum to drop like a stone and hitting one of the American ex-prisoners, fatally. Our joy at receiving the supplies was immediately turned to grief at the thought of his long period of suffering being so sadly ended.


As soon as a few days' good food and freedom from hard labour had restored our strength, "hunting parties" set off for the village to settle a few old scores with the hanchos, only to find that they had decided that discretion was the better part of valour and had long since taken to the mountains until such time as we had departed. We stayed, impatiently, for weeks without any information, until we were told to pack up our gear and be ready to leave camp within a couple of hours. We marched to a fairly nearby railway station and were taken to Sapporo where there was an airfield, and after a medical to ensure we were fit to fly we took off for Tokyo. As we approached the airfield we looked through the windows in horror. There were square mile after square mile of utter devastation, caused by American "blanket bombing" and the only things standing were the stumps of shattered telegraph poles. At that time we knew nothing of what the atomic bombs had done but what we saw of the remains of Tokyo had us wondering how the Japs had continued the war as long as they had.

Coming in to land we saw that literally scores of burnt out Japanese planes had been cleared off the runways, which had been repaired since August 15th and it was obvious that the Americans had tried to leave the administrative buildings intact. When we had landed we were taken into a huge hangar which had been only slightly damaged. This was fitted out with hundreds of camp beds and a canteen. We each had an allocation of a bed, a hot meal and a cup of coffee, after which we were individually debriefed. All our answers were taken down in short hand, typed up immediately after our interview and then brought to us for signature. It was like seeing a production line in full operation. Books were provided for us to keep and writing paper and envelopes and pencils were provided for us to write home, freely and uncensored for the first time in years.

The original intention had been for us to fly on to Manila and from there to America and then home. Unfortunately for us it was the season in that part of the world for bad weather, particularly for flying, so we had to stay over night at the airfield. Next day we were taken by American army lorries to a Japanese Naval barracks which had suffered quite a lot of structural damage but could accommodate us. It had been cleaned up by a Yank pioneer battalion commanded by a John Wayne like Colonel who welcomed us and apologised for the state of the buildings. All the toilets had been wrecked and he told us that his "guys" had been busy digging latrines for us and if we walked down a clearly marked path to where there was an area screened off with hessian we would find the appropriate facilities.

It was at this point that an example of American humour came our way. We were a mixed collection of all ranks up to captains and one of the second lieutenants piped up "Excuse me Colonel, but where are the officers' latrines?” The American Colonel looked at him for several seconds before drawling "Well sonny, you see that path? You go right on down there ‘til you see some screens. You go right on behind them and do what you gotta do and I'm sure the men won't mind!" There was a roar of appreciation and a burst of applause for the way the Colonel had stressed that we were all being treated alike regardless of rank.

The next day we were driven down to the docks and there we embarked on the USS Haywood, bound for Manila. We were fed like lords, had cinema shows, ship's concerts and church services. I answered an invitation for any of the ex-POWs who wished to join the ship's choir practice and rank along with them on the Sunday service, in recognition of which I received a Bible signed by the ship's chaplain, which I still have. Before I close this chapter I will answer your question about the Japanese. At no time, then or since have they offered any apology and no reference appears in Japanese history books about the treatment of prisoners of war. We saw no evidence that they feared reprisals and, no, the rats did not figure in our diet although there was a strong suspicion that one hut at Taipei may have had the camp cat in a stew.

Well, immediately after landing at Manila we were loaded into a fleet of US Army lorries through the squalid outskirts of the city out into the country. After a few miles we arrived at a huge transit camp which was jointly run by the Americans and the Australians. Our convoy was driven into the American part (I think they had adopted us by now!) and we were shown to our quarters. The camp was organised like an American city with the tents laid out in avenues and intersections, with real avenue and street names, lamp posts etc. The only things missing were traffic lights, traffic and pedestrian crossings.

The tents were large 12-man ones, each with a wooden floor and furnished with 12 very comfortable beds and lockers. Each tent had a side that rolled up so that we could watch the films which were shown nightly from the comfort of our beds as the film was shown on a huge screen in the centre of the camp and the sound system carried all over the camp. The food served in a very large mess hall was 4-star hotel quality and was very plentiful, so much so that for a while our poor digestive systems could not cope with all the food and amazingly, considering how long we had longed for huge meals, we had to ask for smaller servings. This lasted until gradually we were able to increase the size of the meals. Funnily enough the ship's medical officer congratulated us for doing this. If he knew that this was the right thing to do, why had we been given such huge meals in the first place? We put it down to misjudged kindness on the part of the cooks!

Each morning after breakfast we were directed to the PX (Post Exchange) which was a much larger version of the British NAAFI, where we received, free, 3 cans of beer, bars of chocolate, 200-packs of cigarettes, razor blades, pipe tobacco and unlimited Coca Cola. We were so heaped up it was difficult to get back to our tent without dropping part of our load. Fortunately when we were kitted out in US Army uniforms we had also been given two large kitbags each and it soon became obvious that, at this rate of daily issues, we would probably need another one. Fortunately we received our first pay day, in dollars and found that we could then purchase items from the PX which seemed like an Aladdin's cave. We all bought an extra kitbag with handles and started to fill this one with presents for home. One day an announcement was made over the PA that there would be no film-showing that evening. Instead we were all invited to a concert to be given by the US equivalent of our ENSA, which meant it would be a top-class show. We all flocked into the large community hall and our first surprise was to see white women, in uniform, for the first time since the end of 1941.

These were members of the concert party who were not in that night's show and nurses from the camp hospital. They mixed freely with us and fetched us soft drinks from the bar. We found it difficult to socialise. Being so out of practice but they were very patient and friendly so that our awkwardness soon wore off. The next surprise came at the end of the interval, when the compère came on stage to announce a special treat for us. He said that one of their ex-POW friends had formerly been a leading member of the London Covent Garden Company and had kindly agreed to perform two numbers he had sung on board 'The Empress of Japan' when he left England. He said that he had been a member of an impromptu concert party and his choice of music had proved very popular. I'll say it did because I was a member of that very same concert party [Cliff had been aboard The Empress of Japan, converted to a troop carrier which carried the troops to the Far East] and I knew we were about to hear once again L/Bombardier Butler, who had brought the house down. True enough here it was and once again we were treated to that glorious tenor singing both versions of Ave Maria. All the females were wiping their eyes, and not a few men, too. That was my most memorable moment of all that happened during my repatriation and there many memorable moments.

Shortly afterwards we received a visit from Countess Mountbatten, The wife of the C-in-C (Commander in Chief) Far East, and she mixed freely with us asking if there was anything we needed. We all said "Yes, a boat home". By this time we were into October and the war had finished on August 15th, so we were getting more than a little impatient at the slowness of our repatriation. She said she would have a word with her husband about this and, true to her word, very shortly after her visit alphabetical drafts began to leave the camp. I was on a draft allocated to a US troop ship known throughout the US navy as the glass bottomed ship. It had taken part in many assaults on Japanese-held islands and had hit mines, sunken wrecks and coral reefs that it had undergone repairs of temporary nature until it could get back state side for a complete refit. It got its name because for much of the time it was possible to look through the holes in its hull and see right down through the clear blue pacific to the seabed. We were convinced that it had been brought into service to take us back on its journey for refit because of our talks with Countess Mountbatten! Anyway we didn't care - we were on our way to San Francisco.

Our journey from Manila was not quite up to the standards of the USS Haywood nor the Manila transit camp which was only to be expected if our suspicions were correct. We thought that the ship had been due to return to the States unloaded but had been hastily re-provisioned to cater for us after we had expressed our disappointment over our return home taking so long. This seemed to be confirmed when one day before teatime we were told by one of the crew that a real treat awaited us. In the mess hall on each table stood jugs of hot water, mugs turned upside down with short pieces of string protruding, each with a little cardboard tag on the end. Mystified we asked what was going on and with a look of great anticipation our American mess petty officer said "We thought we would give you a real English treat to cheer you up. Lift up your mugs" We did and were surprised to see what looked like small round bags made of what looked like tissue paper from which the pieces of string were attached. The excitement of the Americans changed to looks of puzzlement when we did not respond. What they did not realise was that we had never seen teabags before and, secondly, boiling hot water is always used to make tea with the addition of milk and sugar. We thanked them very enthusiastically once we knew what they had intended to do for us and bravely struggled to drink their offering with a show of great enjoyment. This was a very moving demonstration of the kindness and efforts to please that we met all along from the Americans involved in our repatriation.  Eventually we neared San Francisco but received a PA announcement that a dockers' strike had broken out and we would not be able to dock at San Francisco, but we would proceed up the western seaboard to Seattle. With our journey being lengthened yet again we were not happy bunnies so you can imagine our feelings when we received another announcement that the strike had spread up to include Seattle and, as a consequence we were being diverted to Canada.

So, here we were at last coming in to the harbour at Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. The ship's PA blared out that we were about to enter the harbour and that we might like to come on deck. As we did so, dozens of hooters, sirens and bells, in fact just about anything that would make a noise started going at full blast. We were told on the PA that advance notice had been given that the ship was carrying British re-pats after three and a half years of imprisonment by the Japanese and that the fanfare was in our honour. Even small pleasure boats were joining in, some coming close enough for us to hear cries of "God Bless you". It was a very touching experience and, as we disembarked carrying our assorted kitbags, willing hands took our loads from us and stacked them on waiting Canadian Army lorries. We ourselves were shown on to a fleet of coaches, each one with its own smiling hostess who, once we were all seated, came round serving soft drinks, chocolate bars and beautiful rosy apples. As we drove from the docks area the streets were lined with cheering, waving people. I think it must have been made a public holiday! A short distance out of town we saw a fish and chip shop and a mighty cheer broke out. At last we felt that home was coming closer. The coaches pulled in to a Canadian Army camp where everything possible was done to provide for our comfort. What a warm hearted people the Canadians proved to be during all our time with them, wherever they met us. That evening we were told that a dance was to be held in our honour in one of the large halls in the camp and we would not have to dance with each other as the coaches which had brought us from the docks had gone back into Victoria and were inviting young ladies to come and dance with us! We were exhausted by the time the evening was over but we were in no doubt whatsoever that freedom was becoming more and more to our liking.

The next morning we had to undergo medicals and my heart sank when I discovered that it was one man to one MO (Medical Officer). Under the American system as much as possible was run on conveyer belt lines and I had been put wise by a Master sergeant as to how to ensure that I was classified "fit to travel" at each medical along the way. Here, however that system would not be possible and I dreaded being pulled out and hospitalised, as had happened to quite a few chaps during our travels.
I was examined by a Canadian captain of the Medical Corp. and he looked at me with a very quizzical smile and said "OK soldier how have you managed to get this far"?
I returned his gaze and said "I don't understand, sir."
He said “OK if that's how you want to play it".
My heart sank as a mental image of a military hospital ward flashed into my mind. He was looking very undecided and was leafing through my recently issued army pay book when he stopped, sat bolt upright and said "Sutton in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire? You come from there"?
I said I did and he asked me if I knew a particular family and he asked me if I had known the daughter, Dorothy. I said yes I did.
He said "I married her. I was stationed in Sutton before D-day. You must come to dinner tomorrow night. She will be tickled pink"
With that he stamped my travel papers "Fit to travel" and I breathed a big sigh of relief. How glad I was that my home was in Sutton-in-Ashfield!

Immediately after the medical we were kitted out in British battle dress uniforms complete with medal ribbons and some insignia which had been dropped from UK uniforms but still retained by the Canadian Army, in my case the "sparks" badge dictating that I was a wireless operator, crossed rifles showing that I was a marksman and an inverted stripe on the left cuff known as good conduct badge but officially originally described as awarded 'for five years of undetected crime'!  When we got back into British hands eventually, all these except the medal ribbons had to come off! Once dressed in battle dress we were free to go into Victoria which we did by public transport. This operated in a fashion totally new to us as an outer circular ring, an inner circular ring, and radials into the city centre were paid at a flat rate by inserting a coin (I don’t remember the value) into a cash receptacle on a turnstile beside the driver. No conductor, no tickets. Once we had arrived in the city a group of us who had been close friends for most of our army service decided to go for a meal. It didn't take long to find a decent looking restaurant and in we went. We were instantly recognised as 're-pats' by the waitress who came to serve us, a lady whose name I have always remembered for her kindness to us, Agnes Klassen who was delighted when we gave her some Japanese POW paper money which had no longer any value to us but to her was a treasured souvenir. When we asked for the bill she said it had already been paid by a gentleman in the corner. He gave us a wave when we thanked him and he said it was an honour! What had we done to deserve such kindness from everyone? After the meal we did some shopping and then went to a cinema where even in 1945 did not allow smoking whereas we have only just got round to banning it in our country. We got back to camp to be told by the other chaps in our billet that we had to be up earlier in the morning as we were leaving for Vancouver. There was a message for me from the MO I had seen saying how sorry he was that he and his wife would miss out on my company for dinner but also saying how pleased they both were that we had not been delayed from getting nearer to home by our stay in Victoria.  The next day we bade farewell to our hosts at the army camp and were bussed back to the docks to board the ferry for Vancouver. Getting ever nearer!

Well, here we were in Vancouver and I have to say we saw less of this place than any we had yet visited, for the simple reason that we were whisked off the ferry, on to a Canadian Pacific Railway train and within minutes we were on our way. Urgency now seemed to be the key objective. The whole train was a special, entirely occupied by re-pats and Canadian Army personnel who were on board to minister to our needs. Each car consisted of compartments which doubled as lounges during the day and sleepers at night. There was one car attendant from the Canadian Army Service Corp who had a compartment of his own at the rear of the car in which there was a galley in which he prepared our very good meals, kept bed linen and stores and had his own sleeping quarters. Our attendant was named Ray, and like the Canadian MO had been stationed in England before D-Day and had also married an English girl. We all got along with him fine and kept him supplied with cigarettes from the ample supplies we all had from Manila PX ! As a result I think we were better fed than chaps in the other cars! We passed through some breath-taking scenery and whenever we stopped to take on water for the engines we took advantage of the opportunity to stretch our legs and get some fresh air in our lungs. This sometimes happened in the early hours of the morning but the amazing thing was that there was always a crowd of Canadians, whole families in some cases who had driven anything up to 50 miles to be there with supplies of chocolate bars and the ever-present beautiful rosy-red apples. How they knew what time our train was due to be there and that it was full of returning Far East POWs we never found out, but these kind people treated us like heroes and job offers for us to return to if things didn't turn out in the UK were freely made. They asked us what our jobs had been before the war and, as a Post Office employee I was asked by one man to come back and run a Post office in his settlement store as their nearest Post office was nearly 50 miles away! And so it was throughout our journey across this beautiful and friendly country and I have no doubt that there would be quite a positive response to the offers of employment because I saw many names and addresses being exchanged. Finally, however our time on this train ended when we had passed down through Albany and arrived at New York.

On leaving the train we were taken to an island in the Hudson River which I think was called Fort Hamilton, on which there was an Army base.  The layout of this base is rather hazy in my mind because things happened so confusedly. One thing I do remember clearly was that we were handed over into an RAF team as the next link in our repatriation and here we were involved in a rather peculiar incident. The chap in charge of the RAF detail was a small Warrant-Officer (Discipline) who immediately began to throw his weight about, thus incurring the displeasure of an American who outranked him. In a few well-chosen words the American said to him that he would never gain our respect acting like that and anyway he should be respecting us. He also suggested that if he (the RAF wallah) wanted to tell us anything or ask us to do anything it would be courteous of him to speak to our senior ranking member and leave the rest to him as we were a very closely knit bunch who had had a bellyful of being pushed around. I have never seen someone who thought he was the bee's knees so quickly and quietly deflated. After that our senior was left to do all the talking. Then the fates which had so often conspired against us getting smoothly on our way home had another trick up their sleeves. We were taken to the docks where the RMS Queen Mary was waiting to take us to Southampton. Unfortunately the Captain refused to take us on board as a very thick fog had fallen whilst we were on our way to the docks and he said the weather forecast was that New York would be totally fogbound for the next few days so there was no possibility of sailing for the time being. Back we went to Fort Hamilton to while away the time until the fog cleared. The Americans had few facilities to cope with a large number of "browned off" British troops who felt that it was a case of "so near but yet so far" once again. The best they could do for us was to give us unlimited paperbacks in the hope that would keep us quiet. However our spirits lifted with the fog and we were taken back to the Queen Mary. There I had the great pleasure of being reunited with my old oppo, Norrie, who I had last seen in Manila. Unfortunately for him, his surname began with W so he was on the last draft to leave the camp. However the ship he was on was able to land at San Francisco as by that time the dockers strike was over. He had come by rail right to New York in time to catch the Queen Mary just as the fog lifted!

We left New York on Tuesday afternoon and arrived in Southampton on Sunday morning 18th November 1945. There was a huge crowd on the dockside, a military band playing and flags and bunting everywhere. We looked down on it from one of the upper decks and so huge was the ship that everything below looked so tiny. Our disembarkation was organised with the utmost precision and as we each came down the gangplanks we were relieved of our baggage, a rolled scroll was placed in our hands and we were led to a fleet of coaches labelled with regimental names e.g. Royal Artillery, Royal Signals, etc. Once aboard the coaches a roll call took place until every one was accounted for. Only then did the coaches leave for an Army Transit camp. Once there the rest of the day was a continuous and frenzied series of activities.

First we had a medical then we had a pay parade then we had ration books issued then to the NAAFI for a free issue of cigarettes, plus the ability to buy a rationed amount. Finally, we were gathered in a hall and told that we would be leaving first thing tomorrow morning on trains organised to call at main stations throughout the country. I was to travel on a train from Southampton going to Newcastle on Tyne, which would be stopping at Nottingham at approximately 2.00pm. We were then given telegram forms to fill in to our folks which were then gathered to be sent by tele-printer for delivery Monday morning before our arrival home. We were then dismissed and were free to do as we liked for the remainder of the day. As it was evening by then it did not give us much time to fill.


In those days not many people had telephones in their homes but Olwen lived in a Children's Home where her mother was Matron. I couldn't remember the number but soon got it from Directory Enquiries and rang. A female voice answered the phone and, having only one thought in my mind, I immediately assumed it was Olwen and said "Hello, darling I'm back. I'll be home tomorrow". There was a surprised gasp before I was told that Miss Olwen was at church with her mother and that I was talking to the cook (a middle-aged single lady). After she had got over the shock of being addressed as darling, she said she would pass my message on. I apologised and said she had sounded just like Olwen and I gave her full details of when and where I expected to be on the morrow. The next day we joined our individual trains, Norrie being with me as he was going to Leeds and off we set, bubbling with excitement. The long-awaited moment was now only hours ahead!

When I alighted from the train at Nottingham Victoria station the platform was a seething mass of people who had bought platform tickets to be able to greet their returning sons, fathers, brothers, fiancés or what-have-you. The platform gradually cleared until I stood there alone. Wondering how I was going to get to the bus station in full marching order plus three kitbags, a porter came along the platform and asked me if anyone was meeting me and I said I didn't think my telegram had arrived in time for them to make arrangements. I hoisted all my  gear on to the top of my back pack and carried the kitbag with handles in my right hand, my left hand holding a cigarette I had lit while I was waiting to see if anyone  had come for me. My ticket was stuck in my forage cap for the ticket collector to take when I got to the top of the stairs from the platform. From the top of the stairs there was a long walk-over to the booking-hall and exit onto Milton Street. As soon as I got on to this walk-over I could see them at the booking-hall end - three ladies on tiptoes peering towards the platform stairs. Yes, someone had come to meet me - Mother, my sister Dorothy and Olwen! They had come by private car and soon had me and all my baggage in it and off we went on the last leg of my thousands of miles three month journey. As we drove away from the city my mother fished in her handbag and brought out a packet of Senior Service cigarettes which was the brand I used to smoke before I went abroad and said "Here you are, lad, I walked all over town this morning to get you some of your favourites, and finally got some from your hairdressers when I told him you were coming home today". How could I tell her I had literally thousands of cigarettes in my kitbags? I accepted them with thanks and said there was nothing like a Senior Service cigarette.

When we got home my brother Ken was there on compassionate leave from the RAF, my Dad, who had been given the half day, and my Aunt Sue from Skegness who was staying with the family while she was visiting relatives and friends during her closed season (she kept a boarding house). A high tea was already prepared with all my favourite foods, tinned crab, ham, pork pie, trifle and cakes. I was forced to decline, the medical people finally having got round to controlling our diet, and asked if Mum had any milk and eggs to spare as I was allowed only eggs beaten up in milk three times daily until I had seen a local Army Medical Officer and produced special instructions and ration cards to enable these to be obtained. I said they were not to worry, but to carry on with the celebrations just as if I was joining in, it was the thought that counts. After the meal I opened up my kit bags and it was if Santa Claus had come to town, silk cushion covers for mum together with some embroidered slippers, cigarettes for Dorothy and Ken, pipe tobacco for Pop and razor blades for both Pop and Ken. Aunt sue was not forgotten as I still had some chocolate left. And that was my homecoming.

One thing I did not mention when we first went into Singapore I can now relate. An old Chinaman stopped me and said he had much to tell me. My mates urged me to ignore him, saying he was only after money, but the old man insisted he wanted no money but had much to tell. I allowed him to go on and this is what he told me. He said that it would be a long time before I returned home and the time in between would be hard. Wherever I went I would be beside water. At home I had a girl who would be waiting for me. We would marry and have only one son - number one son who would make us very proud. I would never be rich in money but we would always have enough. Although not rich in money in my heart I would be a millionaire and my wife and I would live many many happy years together. I was beside water at every camp I was in, Changi by the sea, Taipei by a lake, Hakodate by the sea and Akahari by a river. Olwen had waited for me, we have had one son, Stuart who has made us very proud, I have never been rich but always comfortable, I have been blessed with a happy temperament and doubly blessed with a lovely wife with whom I had 60 wonderful years of married life. So what can I have to moan about - life's been good to me.

Answers to Specific Questions:

After the fall of Singapore the Japanese did not release any lists of prisoners as they did not recognise the Geneva Convention, so initially I was posted "missing". I believe it was over a year later that the Japs allowed us to send printed cards which we had to sign or get a bashing which said we were well and were working for money. In fact we were so badly fed, so ill-fed and so hard worked and our so-called pay was the equivalent of a penny farthing a day that the cards were only a blind to cover up the truth.

As for when family and Olwen knew I was on my way home it must have been September or October of 1945 as it was quite a while before we were moved from the last camp we were in.

Yes, I stayed in contact with Norrie who married and also had a son named Stuart! In later years I also heard from one or two others about the time we were pressing for compensation.

On my return home on November 19th 1945 I was given repatriation leave followed immediately by demobilisation leave and returned to my old job on April 1st 1946 .
A big mistake was made by the Government in my case and in many others in that our families had been advised not to ask us about our experiences and, if we started to talk about them, to steer us on to a different topic of conversation. In effect this amounted to saying put it all behind you and make it a taboo subject.

The result was that we heard so much about VE-Day but nothing for years about VJ-Day that we felt all our sufferings had been swept under the carpet. However, belatedly, the Government gave us compensation some years ago and FEPOW's (Far East Prisoners of War) have been represented in National Remembrance and parades. So I suppose we must say all's well that ends well!

Thanks to the family for their help in compiling all my jottings.

January 2008

Copyright Clifford Reddish